Category Archives: People

A question of atrocities

Ashis Nandy’s recent allegedly anti-Dalit remark during a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which led to legal procedures against him, has begun an array of exchanges in his support as well as against him, in the media, academic and political circles. It is this attention given to this social psychologist writer’s remark due to his ‘eminent’ position in certain spheres that has escalated this incident to a controversy. To understand the various commentaries and to be able to take a stance on the issue, it is necessary to understand the order of events and excavate the meaning of all that has been said.

It was on 26th January, during a panel discussion at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013, titled ‘Republic of Ideas’ where five men from various fields were exchanging ideas about India, its present and future. The conversation soon turned towards the topic of corruption when Ashis Nandy pitched the idea of nepotism also being a form of corruption, but not being recognized as such. This allowed the powerful and rich to hide their corruption, while incriminating the poor who indulge in corruption. He also said that corruption made our society more humane. In response to this, Tarun Tejpal, the editor of Tehelka and one of the panellists, deemed corruption to be an equaliser since it is a means for the underprivileged to subvert the structure of society and improve their condition. At this point, with a prior warning that he was about to utter something “vulgar” and “undignified”, Ashis Nandy said, “It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the scheduled castes and now increasingly scheduled tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive”. Nandy followed up these words citing West Bengal as an example where nobody from the SC/ST or OBC community has reached any position of power in the last 100 years. At the same time, it is also one of the least corrupt states in the country. By this he implied that since they don’t indulge in monetary corruption, people from these backward communities have not arrived at powerful positions although nepotism among the privileged allowed them to continue holding zenithal statuses.

Ashis Nandy making a point

Despite his seemingly pro-Dalit example about West Bengal, Nandy’s previous and now oft-quoted words had already sparked the ire of his co-panellist Ashutosh Srivastava, Managing Editor of IBN7. He protested saying that this was the most bizarre statement he had heard and that this was the typical perception about Dalits held by the elite. Ashutosh’s objection was met by some supportive applause from the audience after which there was a question-answer round before the session ended and the audience dispersed. In a few hours, a group of people led by Rajpal Meena, Chairperson of the SC/ST Rajasthan Manch, began a protest outside the venue demanding Nandy’s arrest for slurring the Dalit community. Soon, TV channels were displaying a clip only of him making the particular statement that the protestors claimed was proof of his anti-Dalit attitude, in a loop and out of context. This escalated the issue and soon a police complaint under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act) Section 3 (x) was filed against Ashis Nandy. Although such a complaint demands immediate arrest, Nandy left the Jaipur Literature Festival premises from a back route and drove to Delhi. While no arrest was made despite four FIRs being filed against him in different parts of the country, the Supreme Court issued a stay order on the arrest of the accused writer on 1st February 2013.

In the meantime, Ashis Nandy produced a statement clarifying what he meant by his statement at the festival and that it was, infact, not anti-Dalit. This was reiterated by a still-growing number of his supporters from the media, academic and intellectual circles, via articles, petitions and even an Ashis Nandy solidarity blog. Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Karan Thapar and many others raised the argument of the freedom of speech and expression being a constitutional right for all Indians and that we have become an intolerant people to not respect this right and listen to someone’s opinion. Many others like Lawrence Liang and Ritu Bhatia felt that ‘Ashis da’ deserved better and that all his past writing is proof that his heart is in the right place and that he has infact always been a supporter of Dalit upliftment. Others like Ali Khan Mahmudabad attributed this anti-Nandy protest to be a result of manipulation by politicians who have twisted the meaning of his words for identity based vote-bank politics. Many also agreed that Ashis Nandy’s words and manner of phrasing his thoughts was too obtuse and thus, easily misunderstood his idea of associating corruption with caste in India, which haven’t been linked before. These are largely true and strong arguments brought up by his supporters, however, I find reason in the arguments put forward by those disapproving of his action. In an open letter to Ashis Nandy, Kancha Ilaiah, Director for the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, pointed out that labelling SC/ST/OBCs as corrupt to equalise them with the upper castes is not justified because the latter indulge in corruption as well as exploitation. Another argument pitched by S. Anand of Navayana Publications is that Nandy has dismissed the agency of Dalits by implying that even in corruption they are ‘emulating’ the Upper caste people. Urvashi Butalia, who was chairing the panel discussion where the controversial incident occurred, ends her article supporting Nandy, by posing a question. She asks if something derogatory against women is spoken by anyone in public, will anyone protest about it? She speaks too soon when she says there will only be a few feminists protesting, while still abstaining from judicial procedure. In my opinion, if there were adequate laws, the long-oppressed women would have raised their voices in protest and invoked the law.  Dr.K. Satyanarayana also pointed out that all this hype about the issue and the raising of the ‘freedom of speech’ argument is making the Dalits appear as if they are an intolerant community and foreclosing any discussion on their corruption levels by simply stating that they are the more corrupt.

There is indeed no empirical data about the levels of corruption related to castes and communities. In a space like a popular literature festival, Ashis Nandy ought to have weighed his language and articulated his idea in a responsible manner. Throughout this controversy, one can recognize the problem of using words and interpreting their meanings. Ever since Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement, the vehement abhorrence for this vice has increased and by accusing a people of being corrupt, Ashis Nandy has stepped on fragile nerves. One also needs to examine the Prevention of Atrocities Act that has been filed against him. The word ‘Atrocity’ is quite a harsh word and one needs to question if by saying something that can be potentially misunderstood and can hurt a Dalit, infront of a large public gathering, he has committed an atrocity. It is apparent in the context of the conversation that the sociologist was not making an anti-Dalit statement, and needn’t hurt or offend anyone, except those on whom he is blowing the whistle. However, I believe that in terms of the law, and in the light of the way that single sentence was used, Ashis Nandy has committed what could be an atrocity towards their life in this country. Someone, who doesn’t understand his meaning and buys into the sentiment that that statement proliferates, could be biased against Dalits which could possibly cost a member of this community job opportunities, food and a humane life. I think the court trial ought to go ahead and the fact that his was not a casteist statement can be proved and established via the judiciary and constitution, thereby maintaining the faith of the people in an Act and a law that has been a tool for their redemption.

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Filed under Issues, People, Thoughts/ Ideas, Why?

how to pay condolences

My boss at the place where I am interned recently lost his father and so I had a few days off too. When he got back, I realized that I am supposed to be an adult now and am responsible for paying my own condolences. I asked my parents what I should say, looked up youtube for ‘how to pay condolences’ and even rehearsed. And yet , I screwed up. 😐

Youtube has nothing noteworthy on this subject, btw. There were just news reels about famous people going to pay condolences on the death of other famous people or fans of musicians crying their lungs out.

I don’t know whats wrong with me. Usually I never tend to be able to grasp the gravity of death and mostly I guess, even deny it. I’ve never had anyone super close to me pass away, just my maternal grandfather.  I was about 15 then. I did like him a lot but don’t think I cried about it at all.  My friend Vidya lost her dad not too long back, and since she was my own age and had known her for many years, I knew how to console her and allow her to accept teh situation and grieve at the same time. But this was my boss. I’ve barely known him a month.  So I was talking to another colleague and was already smiling when my boss came up front for the first time since his father’s death.

Me: (smiling)Hello Sir, how are you?

Boss : (pleasant and grim) I’m good.

Me: (still smiling :O :O) I heard about your father. Im so sorry for your loss.

Boss nods.

Me: (controlling my smile) Was he unwell?

Boss: Yea, he had been hospiatlized.

Me: (trying to look serious) and you got back…? [I din’t even know if he had gone to home country or nt or where his father had been. Hence, the trailing off of the question.]

You see? It was bloody awkward and I had actually smiled! and that was inspite of the rehearsal at home. I think its a defense mechanism of some sort where I try to allay the sadness of death with a smile and pretend like it does not exist.

So I end up having a pathetic expression thast somewhere between laughing and looking serious.

Like this –

Confused laughing + crying expression

Do you guys know what I can do about this ? How do you guys pay condolences\ to your friend or boss? What are the right things to say?

I have been saved the grief so far, but there is an age after which I suppose one finds oneself in such situations more often. So I’d better be ready, eh?

 

 

 

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When I can’t make “When I grow up..” statements

Whenever I call or text someone to wish them on their birthday, I find myself running out of creative ways to wish them and birthday related stuff to talk about. I mean, apart from the usual ‘what are your plans for the day?’, ‘hope you have fun’, ‘where is the party?’, et al what does one ask anyway.

But I think the conversation is easier when its someone’s 18th birthday, atleast in India. There are these list of things you are legal to do – like voting, get married, donate blood, have sex, get a license. So when you wish someone, you can tell how fun life ahead is going to be with all these extra activities they can do legally.

‘You are an adult now. There are so many things you can DO now!’

But what really is Being an Adult? Obviously just arriving at 18 doesn’t make us any more adult than we were a day before. Adulthood comes with certain events in our lives that have nothing to do with birthdays.This may come to you earlier than at 18 years, or if you are lucky, much later.

Something I saw today made me realize that these events are changes that actually hurl you into adulthood and most of the time, its without your permission.

My friend of 11 years and classmate from school lost her father yesterday. Like me, she is just 20 years old and in that confused phase of life when you are done with college and have to decide where you want to take your life. But the events of the last 40 odd days when Uncle got hospitalised and admitted in the ICU and yesterday when he breathed his last, seem to have suddenly moulded her into a woman. Today, when I and a few others spent the day with her to help out with anything and just talk to her, we witnessed how boldly she was taking it in her stride. She did cry occasionally a little and may be she will cry to sleep and cry in the solitude of the bathroom, but her maturity was apparent when he held her wailing mother with a look of strength and calmness and an embrace that seemed to ward off all grief. May be it is today, more than ever before, that she would start living and feeling like a” responsible adult”.  Having said that I still don’t know if that is a real defined term.

But perhaps I got a sense of it today too. Before heading to her place, I was waiting for another friend Busty below her building and saw some kids playing hopscotch. Thats when I realized how it was not very many years back that we went out to play with our friends. When there was a death, it was our parents who had to deal with it and think about what are the correct things to say.  And suddenly now, we had to deal with it and think about what are the right things to say to console someone. Does one smile? When is one supposed to leave? Is there a particular colour of clothing for this occasion? Regardless of these immaterial things, what can you do to make your friend feel ok?

It is said that we should always embrace change and not resent it. But when this change is something out of your control, and something you didn’t even choose, what do you do? May be there is no choice but to accept and embrace it.

But how long is it before you are at peace with it?

It was great when as kids we could play outside till dinner time, watch cartoons, remain untainted and innocent and rarely ever wonder about worldly problems. Though adulthood might be bereft of these things, I have always liked to believe that life, even in its adult version, is going to be awesome despite its ups and downs. But I just wish the transition was smooth for us all.

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Filed under Don't want to talk about it, La vie, Me, People, Thoughts/ Ideas, Why?